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Good soup draws the chair to it, says a Ghanaian proverb. What’s more, experts say it drives ills away. Sitting down to a steaming bowl of soup on a winter day is a custom as ancient as it is universal, and it may be your strongest culinary defense this cold and flu season.

To boost immunity, says Rebecca Katz, chef, nutritionist, and author of The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, we should eat a varied diet, and a pot of soup is one of the best ways to do that. “Soup has the potential to be nutrient dense on every level,” she explains, “because the stock itself contains so many amazing antioxidants and phytochemicals.”

Stock is the foundation of any good soup. Katz suggests preparing it in advance and freezing it in four-cup portions (or if you’re short on time, diluting organic store-bought stock). Then, simply add fresh, immunity-boosting ingredients in whatever variety and quantity you have on hand, and simmer until they’re tender.

Which ingredients are your best bets for staying well? Topping the charts is garlic, for its potential antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. Next, vegetables rich in beta carotene (think colorful carrots, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes) are vital immune boosters, providing vitamin A and protecting the thymus, the major gland of our immune system. Not surprisingly, broccoli also makes the cut. Studies show that this vitamin C powerhouse contains sulforaphane, which triggers antioxidant genes and enzymes in certain immune cells. And don’t forget dark leafy greens. Kale is a detoxifier, bursting with B and C, beta carotene, iron, and zinc.

“With all the different antioxidants, nutrients, and minerals,” says Katz, “eating a bowl of soup is like giving your body an internal spa treatment.”

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